Question: Hoax Bomb Threat of Schools

Mr GARDNER ( Morialta ) ( 16:11 ): My question is to the Minister for Education and Child Development. Of the 20 schools that received hoax bomb threats last week, how many of those schools did not have SMS communication systems in place in order to keep parents informed about such emergency situations?

The SPEAKER: It sounds like an advertorial. It is not Today Tonight: it is parliament. Minister.

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE ( Port AdelaideMinister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (16:11): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will find the exact number in order to not risk misleading the house, and bring that back for the member's information and for the house's information. But, I would point out that we are dealing with very different-sized schools, some of which find directly calling parents is more appropriate to their size and their community, and others where parents might not have ready mobile access and may not necessarily have everyone owning a mobile where other forms of communication are also used.

We have, in the department, allowed a degree of autonomy amongst the schools to determine the most appropriate method for communicating on different matters to their parent body. I am aware that one school does have an SMS capability, and that that capability failed when trying to tell all parents simultaneously and the message had to be re-sent in chunks. So, I do not think we can assume that there is a perfect technological answer.

What is important is that every school has an emergency management procedure, and every school followed it. We received praise from the police for the calm manner in which the staff addressed the quite frightening experience of receiving such a nasty threat, and that they enacted those emergency procedures—the first of which is of course to determine that the children are safe, and subsequently informing the parents.

There is traditionally a view that, when there is a threat like this, we do not inform the media about which school or schools have been targeted, and particularly not during school hours, where you might generate a response from parents—a very understandable one—to visit the site, which might not be appropriate in terms of the security of that site or investigation.

However, what I have asked the department to consider is that, when you have such a large number of schools being contacted more or less simultaneously, if that fact is known to the public, then it increases the chance that your own child might be at a school where that has occurred. That in itself might cause more chaos in the school system by parents contacting their kids' schools to find out if their school is indeed the one or simply going straight to the school to find out.

Given the number of schools involved and that to my knowledge we have not experienced something of that scale before, I have asked the department not only to do what we would always do, which is to have a look at how we responded to the circumstances and whether there are better ways to respond in each individual school, but also whether there is a question of some advantage in giving more details through the media, and we will see what that process of review brings out.

In reply to Mr GARDNER ( Morialta ) ( 9 February 2016 ). 

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE ( Port AdelaideMinister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills):I have been advised: 

Eleven of the schools affected by hoax telephone threats over the course of 4 and 5 February 2016 use or possess a dedicated SMS notification system as part of their emergency communication protocols. 

Schools and governing c ouncils have the autonomy to decide the most appropriate communication methods for their community. This will inevitably vary, dependent on the location, size and demographic of the school and its community. 

For example, there is no value in the use of a SMS notification system in areas with consistently poor mobile reception or the use of 'push' notifications on a smart phone app in communities that cannot, or habitually do not, access a mobile internet connection. 

For these reasons there are no present plans to mandate the use of SMS notification systems in all schools.